The first time I laid eyes on the woman who would eventually ruin my life, she disappointed me. In the flesh, the woman for whom we’d practiced hours curtseying was nothing more than a fluffed up matron. Grey hair roughly pulled off a deeply-lined forehead revealed tired, dull eyes. Her many necklaces tiered heavily round a wrinkled, white neck, accentuating an overly ample bosom that spilled, angry and powdered, out of her corseted trunk.
Mummi introduced us, and we curtsied and kissed the woman’s rings, which tasted of cold metal. Her fingers were gnarled and deformed. The woman turned to Mummi, and I whispered in my sister’s ear, “She’s like a witch.”
Of the two of us, Nené has always been the calm one, slower to laugh or show excitement, much more like Mummi, but this time she whacked me a hard one to the arm. She whispered harshly back, “Do not ruin my chance to be the Archduchess’s daughter-in-law.”
The Archduchess herself didn’t hear a word, because her mouth was whispering into her own sister’s ear. They couldn’t wait to go at it about their disappointments and their troubles. My crinolines were itchy, and I looked around the drawing room for biscuits.